By Donald Wittkowski
Bryan Woolbert is a visually impaired college student who plays his electric keyboard on the Ocean City Boardwalk to entertain the crowds of summer tourists. On Thursday night, he was ready to perform in front of a different audience – the mayor and members of City Council.
He brought his instrument with him to the Council meeting, but no one asked him to play. Still, he impressed the roomful of elected officials.
In this case, it was his words that moved them.
Woolbert, 20, of Egg Harbor Township, persuaded the Council members and Mayor Jay Gillian to revise a proposed ordinance that he thought might not let him play his electric piano on the Boardwalk anymore.
After listening to Woolbert’s concerns, Council and Gillian decided to table the ordinance so that it could be amended. Council will bring the reworded ordinance back at a later date for a final vote.
“When we bring it back, we’ll make sure he can use his piano,” Gillian said of Woolbert.
Woolbert, who was sitting in the audience with his mother and grandmother, responded with a hearty “thank you.”
The proposed ordinance would prohibit Boardwalk entertainers from using amplifiers when they perform. Council and the mayor said they are responding to complaints from merchants and the public that the performers are too loud, effectively drowning out the Boardwalk atmosphere with amplified music and singing.
Wes Kazmarck, president of the Boardwalk Merchants Association characterized the proposed ordinance as a good compromise. It allows the entertainers to stay on the Boardwalk, but would quiet them down, he said.
“Boardwalk merchants welcome the street performers. Eliminating amplifiers only ensures that Boardwalk storeowners and their businesses are able to maintain the atmosphere they desire within their stores,” Kazmarck said in an interview. “Amplifiers directed into their stores were interfering with that atmosphere.”
Woolbert was concerned that his battery-powered keyboard would fall under the amplifier ban. Council’s decision to revise the ordinance, though, means that his electric piano will be allowed.
Clearly happy that he will be able to return to the Boardwalk this summer, Woolbert said he is hopeful that he and other musicians “can inspire and benefit Ocean City artistically.”
A musician, singer and songwriter, Woolbert has been entertaining the Boardwalk crowds for the past three summers, earning tips from people who stop to watch him.
Woolbert, who is legally blind, can see in his left eye only. His mother, Suzanne Woolbert, who is totally blind, uses a guide dog, a poodle named Luna. She brought Luna to Thursday night’s Council meeting when she accompanied her son. Woolbert explained that they suspect there is a genetic component in the family’s visual impairment.
Suzanne Woolbert said she is immensely proud of her son when he performs in front of the Boardwalk crowds
“As he is playing, people come up to me and compliment me,” she said. “Little kids are up there dancing while he’s playing.”
Woolbert attends Cairn University in Langhorne, Pa., and is a music major, with a minor in computer technology.
He hopes to make a career in the music industry by combining his musical talents with his computer expertise, perhaps as a music producer or sound engineer.
He already is somewhat famous as a Boardwalk entertainer.
“They ask him for his autograph,” his mother said of Woolbert’s fans.